Spend five minutes on YouTube and you’ll see why Zack Hample has built such an online following at baseball stadiums all over the country. The New Yorker travels the lower 48 searching for foul balls and home runs to add to his impressive total.
“I know of him, follow him on Twitter,” said new Largo resident Connor Nass. “I watch all his YouTube videos.”
Thousands do. From Milwaukee to Chicago, and Miami to our backyard, Tampa Bay, Hample has been grabbing baseballs since he was a kid.
“There is so much I love about baseball,” the childhood Mets fan said from behind the left field seats at Tropicana Field during a recent Toronto Blue Jays batting practice session.
Hample has caught nearly 9,500 lifetime baseballs and hasn’t left a ballpark without a souvenir since 1993 – a span of over 1,200 games.
And, every ball has a purpose.
“It just seems like he snags every single ball that comes out there,” said a young fan, who was the recipient of a Hample autograph after Jays BP ended.
Each baseball that Hample grabs is tallied and recorded for YouTubers everywhere. Fans make pledges online and Hample collects money when the season ends to donate to baseball charity called Pitch In For Baseball – an organization that buys equipment for underprivileged players around the world.
“It really adds up over the course of the season,” said Hample, who was caught over 170 foul balls, three grand slams and a walk-off home run at Yankees Stadium in 2016. “I’m hoping to get 700 balls this year.”
That would put him over the 10,000 lifetime baseballs total. He caught Mike Trout’s first major league bomb in 2011. He caught Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit as well. The Yankees gave Hample $150,000 toward the charity in exchange for the historic baseball.
“I always want to get at least one ball and keep my streak alive,” he said.
The tour continues this season. Hample has attended a game in 52 different stadiums. The only one he has yet to visit is SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
“I think it’s special. Keep the game special," said Nass. “Give back to the kids. I think that’s wonderful. I think he’s doing a good job.”
In all, Hample’s charity donation total is nearing $200,000.
© 2018 WTSP-TV